Since January, Greenwood Commissioners of Public Works users have been drinking fluoride-free water, unbeknownst to them or the utility’s governing board until engineers made the disclosure during a board meeting last week.
Nothing about the move runs afoul of state or federal guidelines. CPW water department director Danny Ware said officials notified regulators about their plan from the outset, and remain in contact with them as the chemical is phased out of Greenwood’s water supply.
The decision was made, he said, because fluoride — which is available today in toothpaste, mouthwash and processed foods at levels not imagined when the treatment began for municipal water supplies in the 1940s — interferes with CPW’s corrosion control system.
“We feel that the benefits of corrosion control far outweigh the benefits of fluoride. I think if this was still the 1940s, it might a different story, and it might have been a good idea when it was first enacted, but I think we’ve reached a point now that it’s the opposite effect, and if I’ve got to decide if I want to protect our consumers with corrosion control over fluoride, I’d choose corrosion control any day,” Ware said.
And because the move remains in an “operational testing period,” public notice isn’t required. That’ll happen only if the substance is permanently scrubbed from CPW’s water, General Manager Jeff Meredith said.
“I want to be very clear that we have not made a decision to discontinue the use of fluoride at this time. We have only determined that injecting fluoride hinders our ability to provide the most effective corrosion control treatment for the water system,” Meredith said.
While CPW’s overseers agreed with the scientific and engineering reasons behind the transition, they weren’t happy that the news was sprung upon them without prior notice — worrying it would create a public relations issue around a controversial topic.
Board member Michael Monaghan was taken aback at the revelation, interrupting CPW water plant superintendent David Tuck’s presentation for clarification.
“Let me understand. Did you stop putting fluoride in? How long did you turn it off,” he asked Tuck. “If you’re going to stop fluoride for a year, we ought to know about it.”
Overexposure to fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis, a cosmetic condition that changes the appearance of tooth enamel. Its use is widespread, with more than 18,000 community water systems providing fluoridated water to more than 284 million residents in 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CPW administrators said ensuring access to clean, safe water is a top priority.
“Corrosion control treatment is required to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act with regard to control of lead and copper. Greenwood’s CPW treatment system uses naturally occurring compounds to form a protective barrier to line the inside of walls and pipes,” Meredith said. “Greenwood CPW conducted years of research and testing to determine the best practices for our source water and treatment process.”
Tuck said CPW is still monitoring results of its test run.
“We are currently still in that testing period and so far, comparing the water distribution water quality data with the water leaving the plant, we’re matching up very well, which shows the corrosion control system we have started is working well within the absence of fluoride,” he said.
Commissioner Art Bush said Monaghan’s reaction could be indicative of the public’s should fluoride be eliminated from CPW’s water.
“If we announce that we’re taking fluoride out of the water, you’ve got public out there that doesn’t know all this stuff and understand all this stuff, and you’re probably going to get some major push back from the public,” he said.